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Geography and Map Division




Women as Mapmakers
arrow graphicWomen Geographers
Women's Role in Geographic Education
Women's Map Collections
Women and Map Librarianship




Women Geographers
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[Manuscript painting of Heezen-Tharp "World ocean floor" map by Berann]. Heinrich C. Berann [1977?]
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A glowing exception to the perceived absence of twentieth-century woman geographers and cartographers is the monumental work of Marie Tharp. The Geography and Map Division is currently processing a large collection that comprises some of the finest work ever produced by a woman cartographer. The Heezen-Tharp Collection, dating from the 1940s to the present, is based on the pioneering work of Bruce C. Heezen and Marie Tharp who were pioneers in exploration and mapping of the ocean floors.

The collection consists of primary data, including ship tracks and bathymetric soundings, bottom profiles, geologic and hydrologic data, information on gravity and magnetism, earthquake and seismic data, and a variety of water and ocean current data. In addition, secondary data in the collection consist of contour information, province maps, and Tharp's special domain—physiographic diagrams that she drew by hand. Tharp's hand-drawn, original manuscript maps of ocean floors are based on systematic study of each ocean's depths and contours. The maps provide compelling evidence of her contributions to geographic knowledge (see illustration). Rounding out the collection are globes, photographs, undersea cable data, various worksheets, preliminary drawings, and published maps used for points of reference.

In the course of their laborious work, Tharp and Heezen made a remarkable discovery. The Atlantic Ridge had long been known to exist, but what was not known was that there was a valley down its center. It was here that the continental plates were spreading as new material rose from the ridge itself. Dating of the rock proved that the material on both sides of the valley became older as the distance from the valley's center increased. It took Tharp almost a year to convince her male colleague of the accuracy of her findings before he was willing to publicly acknowledge their discovery.16

In addition to Tharp, who supported the work of her male colleague, there are legions of twentieth-century women who have worked in various settings as engravers, geographers, and cartographers, particularly in government agencies where individual authorship is seldom acknowledged. Once again, the true extent to which women have participated in the accumulation of knowledge about the earth and who have made maps has been obscured by the erroneous perception that geography and cartography are primarily male disciplines.

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